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Carol Shields

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I read my reviews. I'm very strict with myself. I read them twice and then I put them away. I never look at them again. Because if they're bad, they can make you go crazy. If they're good, they'll make you big-headed and give you false ideas of your powers. So I don't pay as much attention, perhaps, as I did when I was a beginning writer. And I review books, so I understand perfectly well that not everyone is going to like my books. I don't like half the books I pick up. So I suppose I'm fairly sanguine about them. There was one with The Stone Diaries that I find difficult to forgive, and it was a Canadian review, typical Canadian response, "This book is too ambitious." Now this is the kind of thing writers should not be subjected to. So I was rather unforgiving about that one. Other than that, I think reviewers have a right and even a responsibility to go off with their own highly subjective points of view.
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Carol Shields

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

I didn't write when the children were very small at all. I hardly had time to read a book, never mind write one. But when they all got into school, I thought maybe I could try, and I used to try and catch that hour just before they came home for lunch, between 11:00 and 12:00. I was not terribly disciplined, but I was disciplined enough to ask myself to write two pages. And in those days, I could write two pages in an hour. I can't do it today. And later in the day I could, perhaps, get back to that for a few minutes. And it was a surprise to me. I mean, if you write two pages a day, you have ten pages at the end of the week. At the end of a year, you have a novel, and I did have a novel. All of this surprised me that these writings, these little segments, added up to something larger.
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Carol Shields

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

There are days I don't want to do it. I don't want to pick up that pen, it feels so heavy, or get myself onto the word processor. And like every writer, I have tricks that I do to get me into that flow. My favorite trick, which seems rather eccentric, is I have a huge dictionary in the room where I write, and I open it at random -- you know, the way people used to open the Bible for inspiration, they just open it -- and I read a page of the dictionary. What that reading does is it puts me into that cool, quiet place of language. Because the problem with being a writer and having a busy life is that it's not just finding the time to write, it's finding the time around the time, where you can be calm, and where you can re-enter that fictional part of yourself. That's one of my tricks. Most writers have a handful of them to get to that place. After 10 minutes, 20 minutes, I'm into it, and I can then proceed into the day of writing. And often that day -- five or six hours, I have much more time now in my life -- it'll seem like 30 minutes. Your whole idea of time becomes distorted, and you know when that happens that you're having a good writing day.
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Donna Shirley

Mars Exploration Program

Donna Shirley: There was a fellow named Mr. Brady, and he was my advisor when I first came to college. So, I strolled in very confidentially and said, "Okay, I'm here to sign up for my engineering courses." And he said, "What are you doing here?" And I said, "Well, I'm here to enroll in engineering." He said, "Girls can't be engineers." And so I said, "Well, yes I can." And so he said, "All right." I said, "What classes should I take?" And he said, "Well, here's the requirements and then you can take anything you want, and just bring it back and I'll sign it."
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Donna Shirley

Mars Exploration Program

I said to my boss, I said, "What's going on here? Why aren't I getting any good assignments?" He said, "I don't know. I can't figure it out. I'll go talk to the people who have the money and have the projects and see what's going on." And he came back and he said, "Well," he said, "What's the matter is that they all assume that you are now fulfilled as a mother, and don't want a responsible job." And I said, "Good Lord," so we went in and informed these people that, "Yes, I'm not fulfilled as a mother, I do want a responsible job," and so on. And, it wasn't that these guys were against me or anything like that, or anti-female or anything, in fact they were friends of mine. But, it just never occurred to them. They were from the Depression Era, you know, they grew up during the Depression Era, World War II, and their picture of women was, okay, you stay home and take care of your kids and that's how you become fulfilled. And, it never occurred to them that that wasn't my picture.
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Donna Shirley

Mars Exploration Program

The men my age were not used to having high powered working women, and my marriage didn't survive. My husband was born during the Depression and went through World War II and his mother worked. It was very interesting because his mother worked all her life and kept up the house and everything like that, but she was a textile worker. You know, she was not a powerful professional kind of a person. And so, his model was that women are supposed to do the housework and all that sort of stuff, and men are the breadwinners, even though he knew when we met. I mean, we didn't get married till I was 34 and we had talked about it and we'd worked it all out. And, when it really came down to it, it was just too much against his upbringing and beliefs. I didn't handle it well either.
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Alan Simpson

Statesman and Advocate

Alan Simpson: I was a fat kid. When I was in junior high, I weighed about 185. Big pimples all over me and knock-kneed, and that was tough. So I learned humor. All humor comes from pain. If you ever meet a guy full of humor, great, good humor -- Danny Kaye, who was here in Jackson, conducting the symphony one night, and I'd met him before. I said, "Where did it come from?" He said, "Where did it come from? A Russian Jew in the streets of New York? A kid, getting my head beat in every day. I couldn't outrun them. That's where you learn humor." And there's a lot to that. So that came, that was great. It was lucky I had wonderful parents who were dear. But a teacher one day and of course, then you become the class clown. Because then guys pay attention to you and you tell stories. I look at all the stand-up guys, and all I know is that a lot of them have been through pain. It's the way it works. Don't tell me that they haven't. There won't be one. I won't believe it if they don't tell it. And a teacher said, "Do you realize, Alan, have you figured out whether they're laughing with you or laughing at you?" Boy, that was a tough one. Because really, they were laughing at me in many ways. Then you learn you want to have them laughing with you. That's a nice thing. I learned that in grade school.
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Alan Simpson

Statesman and Advocate

Alan Simpson: I went to Cranbrook, that was an eye opener. There was the art of Carl Milles all over the place, and the architecture of Saarinen and I thought, "What is this stuff?" And I'd begun to take an interest in Shakespeare, because it was so powerful. Macbeth and Hamlet, Othello -- no wonder it's been around for 400-plus years, because it's so powerful. It's about greed and lust and hate, jealousy and murder, and vanity and love. So I suppose that Cranbrook was a settling, and then playing football at the university, when I really wasn't that good, but I just reached down, got something deep out of there and I said, "I'm going to make this team." And I did. Basketball was just fun. I was drinking beer and was the tenth guy on the squad. Putting them all to bed at night, and then going drinking beer from Boise, Idaho to Oklahoma City, to Corvallis, Oregon. And I enjoyed that, in a way. But football, I made the first string on defense, and was elected outstanding lineman in a game at Rice Stadium against Houston, and came home and quit. Went to law school. Said, "I proved that, I've done that." And that was really something, because I wasn't physically able to do that. But I had something down inside -- "I'm going to do that." And I did. And those are things -- you don't where it comes from, but it came.
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